Bibliowords glossary

Since I sometimes use somewhat specialised vocabulary in my reviews that may baffle some of my visitors (read: I got a complaint) I decided to set down a glossary of words and acronyms I use that may not have made their way into mainstream dictionaries, just in case someone stumbles over them. Some I have used, some I may use later on.

In addition to specifically mystery-related vocabulary, I occasionally use more general literary terms like dénouement, foreshadowing or Deus ex machina. Explanations of these can be found in many dictionaries or any good glossary of literary terms, several of which can be found on the web. Or you can use One Look.

I will be adding more terms as they come along.


Bibliomystery: A mystery that features books, manuscripts, book writing, bookshops, libraries, publishers, booksellers, authors, reviewers or any other book-related subject prominently in the storyline or setting. 

Cosy (alt. American spelling: cozy): Short for cosy mystery. So called because they are comfortable reads. This category of mystery is generally defined as a mystery where the violence takes place off-stage and few or no gruesome descriptions are given, the setting is small, usually a country village, small town or a country house, but can be any fairly closed-off location such as a train, ship or small island, there is a small group of suspects and the detective is usually an amateur or a private investigator who solves the case by power of observation and reasoning and/or special knowledge of some subject, like human nature, gardening or antiques. Cosies tend to come in series and when they do there is often a running theme involved, like a bookstore, quilting, cooking, cats, gardening or what have it. The majority of authors seem to be women and many of the sleuths are female as well. Writers include Lilian Jackson Braun, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy L. Sayers, and of course Agatha Christie, whose Miss Marple still reigns as the queen of the cosy sleuths.

Crime magnet: This is a series character who is the kind of person you would not expect to ever be involved in a serious crime or a criminal investigation except maybe once or twice in their lifetime (and then it's more likely to be any crime other than murder), yet they keep stumbling over corpses and investingating murders and other serious crimes over and over. I am not counting PIs among them, because although most real-life PIs never have to deal with anything worse than cheating spouses or insurance fraud, they do have some training in investigation techniques and therefore count among the professionals.

Firstbookitis: Typical mistakes found in the works of inexperienced writers. Includes unnatural dialogue, story threads that go nowhere, disappearing characters, discrepancies, factual errors, wrong vocabulary for the era, etc.

Glom & the glomming urge: This is when you have the urge to read everything a certain author has written - often based on one or two books - that is so strong that you start mass buying their books or checking them out of the library in stacks to make sure you have them on hand them when you want to read them, which may be right now or whenever. (I think maybe I will devote a special blog entry to this phenomenon some time in the future).

Hook: A literary device. When used early on in a story it is designed to catch the reader's attention and keep them reading (like a fish caught on a hook). When used late or at the end of a story, it is designed to get the reader interested in reading the sequel.

Howdunnit: “how’d they do it?”: A mystery where finding out how the crime was committed is the most important thing. When not an element in whodunnits, the identity of the criminal is known or strongly suspected, but proof is lacking or alibis seem bulletproof. Some examples include short stories by R. Austin Freeman about Dr. Thorndyke and by Arthur B. Reeve about Professor Craig Kennedy. The PatriciaWentworth novel I reviewed a while ago, The Case is Closed, is also a good example.

MacGuffin.  A MacGuffin is a motivational plot item used to create something for the protagonist and the villain (when there is one) to seek or chase after. It is often an object (e.g. the Maltese falcon in the epynomous book and movies), but can also be a person (Carmen Sandiego from the computer games comes to mind), a goal (win the game, get revenge, etc.), or even something that is never fully explained. To be a MacGuffin the object/goal/person must be interchangeable and unimportant in itself (e.g. the falcon could just as easily have been the key to a safe deposit box and it could just as easily be Waldo you're looking for), i.e. the story can't hinge on it specifically, and its only role in the story must be to motivate the protagonist/villain, i.e. it can't be an active participant in the plot. This is not just a plot-driving device, it can also simply be used to create temporary conflict, make a point, or arouse curiosity. For example, people are still debating what the glowing thing in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction was, 20 years later. (Be warned: Clicking on the link can get you stuck on TV Tropes for hours upon enjoyable hours on end).

Murder magnet: See Crime magnet

Nested-doll story: A riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma, or in other words: a story so full of mysteries framing other mysteries that frame yet more mysteries that they resemble a matrushka doll in their layered complexity.

Perennial read: A book I reread again and again, often once a year, but sometimes less frequently.

PI or P.I.: Private Investigator.

Reader's block: A sudden and inexplicable lack of interest in reading. May last a couple of days or a couple of years. Sometimes shows itself as a lack of interest in reading anything new. The worst thing that can happen to a true bibliophile.

Red herring: A false clue that is meant to put the reader and the sleuth off track. May be planted by the villain or may be a coincidence (i.e. planted by the author). Why it’s called a red herring

TBR: Acronym. To Be Read. Books I plan to read. Also sometimes referred to as “the stack”.

TSTL: Acronym: Too Stupid To Live. A term borrowed from romance fan vocabulary that describes supposedly sane and sensible characters who behave in such an unbelievably stoopid fashion that they deserve to die for it (and often nearly do). Tempe Brennan in Déja Dead is a good example, as are most heroines in gothic novels.

Whodunnit: Also spelled whodunit. “who done it?”: A mystery that is about finding out who committed the crime. The classic premise for mysteries. Most whodunnits have howdunit elements and some also have whydunnit elements.

Whydunnit: Also spelled whydunit. “why (they) done it?”: Usually an element in a whodunnit, but the occasional example can be found without a whodunnit element. When independent of a whodunnit, it is a story about finding out why a known criminal committed a crime. These stories usually have a strong psychological element.


Maxine said…
Great, especially the nested dolls! Am posting a link on Petrona.

Incidentally, finally got the "Silence of the Grave" in pb and have finished--- it is great, you were right. (You said as much when I read Jar City). Does he have any more books translated into English?
Bibliophile said…
According to The Guardian, "Voices" will arrive in bookshops in Britain in July. It's not quite as good as "Silence...", but comes close. Like "Silence..." it's quite a macabre tale. Here's a link to an interview with Arnaldur:,,1799387,00.html

And here's a radio interview with Arnaldur, Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum:
Maureen said…
I enjoyed reading your glossary. It's an excellent idea. I've never thought about explaining the use of terminology like "cosy" reads but it makes sense to do so since it isn't always known by everyone what that means.
Maxine said…
Thanks for the info, Jo, will be following up those links. Are you Icelandic by the way? Sounds as if you read the language.
Bibliophile said…
Yes, I'm Icelandic.

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